An explosion of colour!


As most people start returning home from their holidays, we are setting off for a short seaside break tomorrow. I absolutely cannot wait! This will mean a total break from technology and blogging for a while.

For anyone interested in cattle, I’ve been working on a website/blog for Vastrap Boran ( to showcase our herd and keep people informed of latest developments. It’s very much a work in progress and not particularly sophisticated given my minimal IT knowledge, but it’s a start. The blog posts will focus on Boran-specific topics that I would not necessary include in my own blog. Many people come to my blog via searches for Boran-related information and I’m sure they don’t want to have to wade through photos of my garden and kitchen before finding what they are looking for! Please have a look and let me know what you think.

In the meantime I leave you with some photos of the garden taken in the beautiful afternoon light on 2 January. I am just loving all the bright colours of the roses, dahlias, hollyhocks, hydrangeas, agapanthus, salvia, cannas and geranium. I even still have a few sweet peas! My garden is a totally uncoordinated mish-mash of colour, but I love how it is developing, especially all the old-style flowers that don’t always find a place in modern gardens.

Salvia, agapanthus and violas.

Salvia, agapanthus and violas.

Mixed bag.

A mixed bag.

My favourite towering hollyhocks.

My favourite towering hollyhocks.

Rose garden ready for its second flush, but the bright pink Rina Hugo never seems to tire.

Rose garden just starting its second flush, but the bright pink Rina Hugo never seems to tire.

Mixed dahlias.

Colourful dahlias.

The dahlias in these photos were planted last year and came up on their own quite early in summer, but I have planted a whole new patch in oranges, yellows and reds that is now on the brink of flowering. The last photo shows the first tiny pom-pom dahlia from the new bed. I had no idea it would be so small, but it’s just too gorgeous and delicate. I can’t wait to see what they all look like in 10 days’ time when we get home. By that time the rose garden should also be well into its second flush, which is just starting now. So much to look forward to. Au revoir!




Jacaranda rain


It’s my birthday today. Yay! I spoilt myself by picking a huge bunch of roses from the garden. I haven’t baked a cake yet, but I’ve been craving the sponge cake with strawberries and cream that my grandmother always made at this time of year. Perhaps I will try it this weekend.

Martha Stewart would be proud.

I’m a Halloween baby, but Halloween wasn’t very big in South Africa when I was growing up. Far more important was whether we would be able to have a pool party for my birthday. Would it rain, wouldn’t it? Would it be warm enough so early in the summer? The other strong association I have with my birthday is Jacaranda blossoms, which usually turn Johannesburg into a sea of purple at this time of year. While we were in town this weekend I was determined to get some good photos of the Jacarandas. Alas, they were not at their peak or I fear a lot were damaged by hail storms in September. I took some photos anyway to share the moment. In a good year, when the Jacarandas are in full bloom, the streets in the suburbs I grew up get covered in a carpet of purple. Driving over the freshly fallen blossoms late at night or early in the morning with the windows down you can hear them popping. I just love that! The purple also becomes more intense when thunderstorms turn the sky dark and moody.

While I was in search of the perfect Jacaranda photo, I visited my cousin Julius van der Wat, who has recently become an artist. Julius is an exceptional person and his talent as an artist was recently revealed in an unexpected way. He has cerebral palsy, which means that he has never in his 34 years held a pen, drawn a line or written his name. Although he has used computers for many years, it was not until he bought an iPad that he discovered art. In only a few months, he has blossomed into a talented and dedicated craftsman with an eye for colour and a unique way of expressing his view of the world. It is a complete revelation, especially for Ouma Hannatjie who is also an abstract artist.

Julius at work on his iPad with his customised pointer designed by his brothers.

While we were visiting he started demonstrating how he works with his customised pointer. Completely coincidentally he was working on a piece called “Jacaranda rain”. In all honesty, they were the best Jacaranda’s I saw all weekend – vibrant, clear and beautiful!

Jacaranda rain by Julius van der Wat.

Ouma Hannatjie wanted me to chose a painting for my birthday present. After serious deliberation, I picked a piece called “Colourful Black”, which is now hanging in the passage outside our bedroom at Vastrap. I think it is beautiful. Thank you Julius!

Colourful Black by Julius van der Wat.

My rose garden: a labour of love


It’s cold outside and it has just started to snow – the second time since June! We are more than half way through winter. That time of year when everything is dead and one cannot imagine how things will ever come alive again in the spring.

Yesterday I bought some frost cover at the local nursery to protect my tiny broad bean shoots from the ice. While there, I asked when the right time is to start pruning my roses. I was told that we have a two week window period in our area – from the last week in July to the first week of August. Any sooner and the new shoots will frost out, any later and the sap will be too far up the shoots (or something like that!) Looking at my travel schedule for the next while it seems it will have to be the first week in August for me.

This winter is the first anniversary of my rose garden. A labour of love that I hope will leave my personal mark on the Vastrap garden as it prospers and matures in the years to come. Telling the story of how the garden came about will cheer me up on this cold day.

View of the rose garden from the house.

Every single rose in the garden is special to me. They were given to me by friends as a going-away gift when I left the city to move to the farm. At my farewell party in October 2010, everyone was asked to bring a rose plant of their choice for my new farm garden. My sister hosted the tea at her beautiful guest house called Ilali. Some of the roses were chosen for their names like “Brides Dream”, “True Love”, “Forever Friends”, “South Africa” and “Madiba”. Others for their brilliant colour and scent like “Rina Hugo”, “Papa Meilland” and “Double Delight”.  Whatever the motivation, I was so touched by the care that everyone took and the fact that each one had its own special message written on gorgeous personalised gift tags from Macaroon.

My farewell party at Ilali.

My sister attaching the tags to each rose.

A line of rose plants with tags from Macaroon.

“Easy Does It” rose from Brenda.

Some of the rose names.

When the day finally arrived, I drove to the farm with a car loaded full of clothes, office equipment and a boot filled with 40 rose plants. The front seat was piled with a crate of books from the office. Along the way I was stopped twice by traffic cops for speeding (only a little bit). They asked me where I was going and why my car was so full of books and things. Without skipping a beat I said that I was on my way to the Free State to marry a farmer. They took one look at this woman in a black BMW wearing fancy office clothes on her way to marry a farmer and laughed…  the story sounded so far-fetched that they waved me on without a fine!

The roses were duly unloaded at Vastrap, but I soon realised that there was nowhere to plant them. A lot of work would have to be done to create the right space for a rose garden. My wonderful husband came to the party and suggested adding a section to the top level of our garden using old sandstone blocks from an underground circular well behind the house.  Construction started that December, but took almost 6 months to complete because things were so busy on the farm. It took a huge amount of man power just to load enough sand to fill the hole! It was like watching paint dry and I became more and more impatient as winter drew near.

View of the garden before construction started.

Construction of the rose garden.

View from above.

We eventually planted the roses on the last day of May. My gardener, Tsidiso was a star in getting everything organised, but he probably thought I was mad as I kept changing my mind about how they should be arranged. Some of the roses I had not even seen in bloom  so I had to go on the description on the tag and Ludwig’s rose catalogue to imagine what they would look like. Even then some of the tags had been swapped so it was very confusing! In the end we arranged them in two mirror image semi-circles as I had received many duplicates. We also created special places in other parts of the garden for the roses that did not fit in the main section like the climbers.

Ready for planting on the last day of May.

Then we could do nothing but wait and hope that they would survive the winter. I mulched and fertilised in the spring and they eventually started flowering in October. To finish it all off we added two bird baths, planted purple irises between the roses and violets around the outside. Later we added some pink daisies to bring colour in winter. Creeping jenny was planted between the paving, which has a gorgeous minty fragrance when you walk over it.

Tsidiso mulching with peanut shells and straw in the spring.

Everything was going well until I convinced Quentin that we needed to cut down the 80-year-old pine tree standing next to the house. It was casting a large shadow over the garden and posed a risk to the house. It was a touchy subject, because the tree had been planted by Quentin’s grandparents around the time that his dad was born. I bided my time and eventually got the go-ahead from Bill and Karine. A tree feller from town arrived one morning, but disaster struck soon after. While I was watching one of the main branches came crashing down on my precious rose garden! That was totally not the plan!!

Help – a tree fell on my garden!

R.I.P. pine tree.

Miraculously only one rose was fatally damaged. The rest all survived! And the removal of the tree was a resounding success as it let in so much more light to the garden and the house. Everyone agreed that it was the right thing to do. Plus we gained an instant supply of fire wood for the coming winter.

The plants are still young and when I look at some of the really old rose bushes in the rest of the garden – some planted by Quentin’s grandmother – I can see that there is still a long way to go. Nevertheless, the whole project has already provided me with immense joy and been part of making Vastrap my home. Every time I pick a rose I think of the person that gave it to me. It is my special personal space and I can’t wait to see it grow!

View of the garden in January 2012.

View from below.

The dogs also love drinking out of the bird baths. And of course, there is nothing better than a house filled with beautiful bright blooms straight from the garden. My pruning shears are sharpened and ready for August – bring on summer!

Patch on the bird bath.

Roses and Dahlias, my favourite combination.